For at least 20 years, I have wished there was an eighth day of the week. A space in time that the outside world didn’t know about; a time to rest, play catch up, strategize, and invite in only what I wanted to. But with a little life and learning, my desire for the eighth day has turned into awareness that that eighth day is never coming so a better goal is to make the seven real days feel the way we want them to feel.
So what stops us? Mindset mostly. Finding that sweet spot between mastering the simple amidst the complex, understanding ourselves and then having the courage to be her, playing on our strengths, and that quest for lifelong learning, are the things that have gotten me closer to let my insides match my outsides and create the days that I want to have. But there is one thing that I know now has stopped me in my tracks - perfectionism. This feeling that we can get it all right, please all people, achieve all the things we want to and still put a healthy dinner on the table every night is something that so many of us wrestle with. It’s presence in my life is something that has affected too much for too long. The idea of perfect is good at setting roadblocks to progress that exhaust us as we try to navigate around them. All of my life, I never thought of myself as a perfectionist, but it was always there bubbling under the surface and tiring me out. There was always a place I needed to steel away to recharge my perfection seeking system, to be alone so I could manage the pressure that I was letting into my life. That pressure can feel so real that it seems to dictate what we are “supposed to do” and if you follow it, instead of the instinct of your own heart, you end up so far out of alignment you don’t even recognize yourself anymore. The irony of perfectionism is that it keeps you from the moments of joy that are as close to perfect as life ever gets. Perfect only exists in tiny slivers …the moment a baby is born, the first light that comes over the horizon in the morning, the hug that comes at just the exact time that you needed it without having to ask. I’m sure you can add your own examples to this list if you slow down long enough to think about it, but life will forever lace these perfect moments with periods of struggle and challenge (hello 2020!) that are there to strengthen us and give us enough perspective to recognize what we value, what is worth working for in this life, and what is best left undone or unsaid. In breaking free from this perfectionist tendency of mine, here are a few things that have helped me free my mind and energy to create, love myself and others with compassion, and move more freely through my days:
STOP CARING OR TRYING TO GUESS WHAT OTHER PEOPLE THINK - as the old saying goes, “what other people think about me is none of my business.” The better question to explore is what do I think about me? Finding purpose and meaning in life doesn’t happen without making mistakes, failing, and falling down. We will never have the courage to do any of those things if we are worried about how things look to other people who, in truth, are more busy managing their own imperfect lives than worrying about what is going on with you. Think and act with intention, but by all means, it’s your life, cut the excuses and do what you want to do.
STOP COMPARING. - yes, it has been said, “comparison is the thief of joy” and whoever came up with that quote I would guess worked through their own perfectionist complex. Stay in your own lane. The voice in your head is your fiercest competition. We can waste so much energy trying to keep up and compare when our time is better spent figuring out and then honoring our uniqueness. My life isn’t supposed to look like anyone else’s. There is such deep peace in believing that we are the masters of our own path and that our way of doing things is unique to ourselves and exactly what will highlight what is special about us in a world that is begging to see it. I don’t care if you look different, talk different, believe different, or act different thatn me, real connection happens when you learn to be yourself and nothing beat the freedom you feel when you start to string together those moments of alignment.
Learn to Let Yourself Off The Hook - this life is here for us to encounter and enjoy. Enjoy what is, instead of focusing on what it should be, or some greater expectation that you have invented in your head. If there is a roof over your head, or a hot cup of coffee in the morning, there is something to be grateful for and deep contentment will grow from the seeds of gratitude if we allow it to. Letting yourself off the hook looks like deep recovery, down time, delegating, and quieting the voices in our head to do what we we want to do.
Newsflash, that eighth day of the week isn’t coming. The present is all we have. What are you going to do this week to be kinder to yourself, and enjoy the moments that flow naturally into your life? We can face imperfect reality with grace and inspire others to do the same. Give yourself a safe place to land, slow down, recover, drop the exceptions and just be…you’ll find out that feeling is as close to perfect as life is ever going to get.
I’m following my own advice and taking a few weeks off from my Sunday Blog for my own rest and recovery project. I will continue with daily microblogs over at Everyday Optimism, click here if you want to subscribe to daily micro doses of optimism to strengthen your mindset and find the beauty in the joy and the challenge of life. Or If you want to take some time to listen…here is a great conversation I had with Jason Dibilius last week on The Option podcast. We covered a lot, but you can always listen in that downtime you are going to give yourself:)
The play on words is intentional and not lost on my political brain. About eight years ago, I abandoned politics and 24 hour news cycles in the name of sanity, health, and wellness. Between my youngest child who was highly sensitive to the news stories on TV, and the constant fighting instead of intelligent and tolerant debate, it became too much to stay positive and have it on in the background as I had most of my life. Over these years, I still took in my favorite columns like David Brooks of the NY Times and Peggy Noonan in the Wall Street Journal. I love the way a column weaves story into current events and helps us make sense of society today, not to mention they get to use more than 140 characters. But my shift was real. I wanted to learn how to deal with my own emotions and pain in my life so I could heal myself and help others, starting in my own home with my four kids, and then work out from there, so I turned to self care, growth mindset podcasts, positive psychology, and books that helped me understand myself better from the inside out. My personal philosophy rose from this mindful journey:
“To create calm and connection with every breath and movement.”
It suits my personality and my gifts and makes me feel confident in my life path. Through it all, I have faith in God that assures me that there is more to this life than my own personal story, but also know that we each one of us is an integral character in the world’s story with the ability to make an impact.
2020 has brought a lot of pain to the surface. We have so much to wrestle with on a daily basis and the national dialogue feels fractured, contentious, and highly activated. This week alone, I’ve been moved to tears by the emotion that comes every year with the 9/11 anniversary, wildfires that threatened my family’s mountain cabin, full of pictures from generations past and 50 year old Clue and Scrabble games. The incredible bravery of the firefighters doing real work to save lives and structures shows us that there are real heroes in this world but then we turn to face the racial tensions in our country that although I will never feel the pain of first hand, I want to be part of the solution that moves us forward to a place that America has never been, but that I am sure in my heart we can go. Add to that a deep and growing concern over COVID and what it is doing to the fabric of not just our physical health, but our mental state as well, and there there is a lot to push through the sieve of my mindfulness practice.
What are the answers? Do we glue ourselves to the news in an effort to stay informed? Do we commit to a break or detox to bring peace to our monkey minds, or is it somewhere in between? Maybe it’s different for each of us, but as I see it, there is a common thread that ties together pain, passion, and perspective that can’t be ignored.
Exposure to the real effects of being human is a brave choice. In this life, none of us is spared painful circumstances, and, as it makes its mark on our lives, whatever our pain points may be, they influence our perspective. If we get real with them and process instead of bury them under a tough exterior, or allow that pain to dissolve into addiction, we allow our pain to give birth to passion that allows for freedom and change. As difficult as it is, pain can be one of life’s great catalysts for transformation that makes us stronger, braver, and a better version of ourselves. Left unresolved, pain in our lives makes us feel unsafe and guarded and we show up differently on the scene of our relationships, connections, and in debates about what makes the world a better place.
Pain —> Passion = Perspective.
When we understand this, we can relate to others, and even politics and policy in a healthier way. In its most gracious form, public policy should be community at work. We don’t have that on a national, statewide, or even a local level today. Power structures are broken, motivated by the wrong things, like wealth and a quest for more power. But when we take it back to our communities and our homes, connection by connection, I feel and see people that want to make a difference. We do it every day with the words we speak and the actions we take on the issues that mean the most to us. It’s part of being responsible for our own feelings and charting a productive course for our lives. The human experience can’t be fulfilled without connection with others, so we are challenged to lift our gaze to see into the eyes of another and allow ourselves to be moved, even changed, by their passion and perspective, instead of quickly dismissing them with a knee jerk reaction. To allow ourselves to be changed by someone else’s story that is different than our own is the greatest form of compassion, and one that it seems to me our cancel culture world needs to embrace now more than ever.
I see a connection today between all that I have learned from my wellness journey and how it connects to the burning torch of public policy, politics, and public opinion. I see ways that I can manage it and help carry it differently than I did in the past for myself, my family, and the community that surrounds me.
The more I understand about creating safety, security, and optimism in my own life through breath work, a mindfulness practice, healthy eating that heals the gut brain connection and helps us get the foundational good sleep that allows us to manage the stresses of life better, I see how it connects to open ears that listen for understanding instead of to react, and increased empathy that allows us to take in another opinion that differs from our own.
I have a deep desire to create safety for others who need to find their voice and be heard, because I understand how raising my voice and shining a light into the corners of my life where pain existed melts it away and creates freedom and connection.
Because everyone has a different life story, we all have different opinions that come from different places, born from the joy and sorrow in our lives. But as we heal ourselves and find gratitude for the blessings we have been given, we learn to feel safe in our own space. The next step is to open our ears and lift our eyes to see the experience of someone else, let it in, and in some cases even allow it to change us.
It is so important to understand that even though my passion isn’t your passion, because my pain is different than your pain, I can listen, and, out of your passion, develop compassion and understanding for how you have arrived where you are today.
Then we can come closer to agreement, we can agree to disagree, and if we commit to listen without judgment, empathy is born. We don’t need to compare and judge, or have an undying need to convince, we need to talk openly, have the courage to let the world hear our voice, and listen for understanding rather than to form a response.
Some of the pain points that have affected my life, helped develop my passion, and created my perspective, are addiction, co-dependency, autism, and divorce. My joys come from parenting, movement through sports and the connections that have defined my life in that space and still do today, and understanding the simple pleasures that make any day full…sunrises, water, movement, human connection, solitude, coffee:)
Tolerance comes from recognizing our own pain and how it has affected us, developing compassion for the pain of other human experiences, and finding gratitude for the joy that life has brought you.
How can we recognize our pain points, work through them in accordance with our values, and allow this work to shape our life, rather than bury them under the rubble of our path for it to erupt later and create societal problems that need to be addressed on a widespread basis? As we become more understanding of ourselves, we empathize with others and see with our own two eyes that every issue has more than one side…in fact, every issue has more than two sides!
There are very few absolutes in this world. The ones that do exist in my mind center around physical and emotional safety. Maturity is being able to live in a world of multiple truths. Seeing things in polarity is a attempt to control life out of fear that we will be smaller or less significant if we are wrong, or that we can’t adapt or handle the unknown. We have to get to a point as a society where we create enough emotional safety within ourselves and as a community to be able to consider different perspectives without reacting out of anger and absolutism.
Is it possible that there is both a need for better forest management and that global warming exists and contributes to the increased fire risk? Can you be utterly outraged and sickened by racism and police brutality and still support honorable law enforcement? Can you eat vegan while your neighbor looks for something to BBQ and still find connection around the dinner table? Can you believe that there are ways to support the immune compromised community in the face of a global pandemic and still embrace the idea of individual freedom, deep health, and people’s need to provide for their families, and commit to their work? Or at the very least, can you understand that someone has a right and reason to see an issue from a different lens than your own without stomping out their humanity?
Just like none of our lives can be summed up by one choice or action, the totality of our humanity is not encompassed in one belief.
Taking in all sides of a story instead of dismissing the one that doesn’t flow naturally for you is a challenge, but I believe it is all possible with the honest work that comes with choosing love over fear and living the mindful life. With mindfulness, we learn to deactivate our fight or flight response so we have less need to see the world in black and white, and also feel deeply the roots of our own uniqueness and autonomy. Mindfulness teaches us to let go of the desire to conform for fear of not fitting in because we know that when we fit with with ourselves first, strong relationships will form from there. It takes away the need to be surrounded only by like minds, and instead lets us feel the vitality that can come from healthy debate and challenging thoughts rather than the anger that rises when we feel threatened by something new.
In the end, I am far more interested in your kindness, generosity, acts of service, and respect you show the world than your politics. I see a future where we are inspired and able to open our hearts, minds, and homes to different opinions, where we can sit around the dinner table and learn and connect with each other and be inspired to take this sense of connection and understanding to a deeper level and to the ballot box no matter how you are going to cast your vote. That’s where mindfulness meets the gratitude that we can find for this great American democratic experiment that is not over and evolving every single day. I was blessed to be raised in a family that taught me civic responsibility through action, I haven’t missed an election since I was 18 years old, and I’m proud of the mindful call I have answered in response to life’s challenges. Believe that your energy and your voice are an integral part of this American life, and then work to make it true. Democracy is a privilege that takes our expression and participation, so take a deep calming breath and find that sweet spot where you are able to listen, learn, and let your own voice be heard.
Do you know how to recognize when you are in your zone? When are you most connected, to what you want out of life, to the people around you and to yourself. For me, that feeling comes in the quiet hours, when I get the time to recalibrate, breathe, and move before the pull of the world and energies from the other people in my life take up more space. The start of an unorthodox new school year, a new business, and the long term goals on my horizon have me thinking about sustainability. It’s a buzz word for sure, but it applies to so much…routines, relationships, finances, health. But consistency is the key to greatness, whatever it is we want our greatness to look like, and success comes not out of single good choice, but the good choices that are repeatable over time. Maybe sustainability is a concept we sink into a little deeper in midlife because there are so many interests and responsibilities competing for our attention. Maybe it’s because we aren’t looking for “someday” anymore but know that our best life is meant to be lived right now. By midlife we have felt the effects of aging, know the depth that our relationships have the potential reach, and understand that time, no matter how present we are, seems to slip through the hourglass quicker with each passing year.
As days pass on, it’s up to us to create the space in our lives for growth, to know ourselves, so we can be leaders in a world that needs our unique talents. The better we know ourselves, the deeper our confidence takes root, and we create a path to walk that is safe enough to walk alone but wide enough for others to join us. We can’t find this sweet spot when we are dealing with overwhelm, perfectionism, comparison or a case of caring what other people think. And that’s right where a good mindfulness practice steps in and helps us diffuse these very real tensions of modern life. As I grow and fall into alignment with what moves me as a person, where I feel most comfortable in my own skin…writing, leading through inspired connection with others, and creating calm in everyday life through breath and movement, I have a clear filter to pass my choices through. This filter has helped me come up with a few rules to create a sustainable pace that moves life forward, but encourages us to enjoy every step, be more than do more, and grow instead of grind.
Set the tone with your phone - Our phones have become second brains and first lines of communication. They are marketing devices, instant information, endless opinions and creators of comparison that will eat that time faster than a crying baby (or a new puppy!) and beg for our attention from the moment we open our eyes. It’s no mistake that the rise of the internet and the iPhone coincide with meditation and mindfulness practices becoming the fastest growing health trend in America, we have to find a way to calm our systems with this onslaught of information. This article in NY Magazine brought me back to center this week and reissued a challenge to me to slow down, and fight the the knee jerk reaction to open my phone and tap the latest headline or social media feed first thing in the morning because I have the sinking feeling that it is the #1 cause of distraction in my day. The struggle is real, the phone has turned into our second brain, but one that races from unrelated task to unrelated task as our hearts beat faster while we convince ourselves that we can handle more because of its efficiency. But with every new thing we take on, we are less equipped to handle the inner work on ourselves that creates a meaningful life. All of a sudden the pace of life feels unsustainable.
The better we understand our values and what makes us unique, the more calmly we can make decisions. Our choices should pass easily through our value filter or life will have us by the tail when it is meant to be the other way around. Are you saying yes to everything in an effort to please or feel some sense of worth? Do you look at your calendar knowing, I should have said no here? Do you deprive yourself of the things that give you joy because of a never-ending sense of duty? The closer we align with our values and our true calling, we have to say no to so many things so that we can say yes to what brings us into alignment, brings us peace, and allows us to put our best foot forward for the important people in our life. Use your filter and trust that when the answer is no, you are only creating space for the person coming behind you who is meant to say yes. We don’t have to be everything to everyone and we don’t have to do everything ourselves!
Start and end the day on your own terms - Since my kids were little, I have started most days before they got up…and the days that I didn’t, I regretted it because I felt hurried and rushed, not present for them, or clear on what I wanted to accomplish in my own day. Luckily, I’m a morning person because most days that hour needs to be pretty early to find that slice of quiet time. I have a saying that goes through my mind every morning, no matter how tired I am: “Morning is best.” For as long as I can remember, it has been the space in time where everything feels possible. But whatever it means for you, give yourself at least 20 mins of quiet before you start taking in other voices. And the same goes for the evening, create a calming ritual around bedtime. Don’t let the last thing you look at before you turn off the light be the blue light from your phone, adopt a breath work practice, or have some reishi hot chocolate, tea, or tart cherry juice to calm you and help you sleep. It only takes a little extra effort but the benefits of a good night’s sleep are huge. The restoration of your mind, body, and spirit should never be taken lightly.
Judge Less Accept More - Judgment is natural, but comparison is tiring. Mindfulness has helped me to stay in my own lane and understand that every path is different. We weren’t put on this earth to be like anyone else. The only question is what we are willing to do to maximize our gifts. Self awareness is the base of human thriving and the gift of a mindfulness practice…being comfortable in our skin is so freeing. As we learn to accept our thoughts for what they are in the moment, we learn that what feels difficult now will pass…nothing lasts forever, and if we can learn to breathe through it and stay the course we get stronger with every new challenge. Accepting the reality of the moment is just that, it doesn’t mean we have to be good with these circumstances forever, it just frees our energy to create a path toward where we want to go.
Have A Beginners Mind - I’m listening to a book called Range - Why Generalists Triumph in a Specialized World by David Epstein. One of the negative thoughts I have learned to overcome in the last few years is that I missed my calling, that it’s too late to turn over a new leaf, try new things, or chart a fresh course. But this book has made me glad that I have an open ear to a lot of different ideas and perspectives and that honing my own intuition while being open to the thoughts of others helps me lead myself and coach others with my own unique style confidently, all the while knowing that there is always more I can learn. Mindfulness teaches us to go into everything as if it was new because that’s what gives us our edge to keep learning. The minute we think we are the expert in the room, we close out on the other human potential that is present around us. Life gets boring when we think we have it all figured out and lifelong learning is the key to longevity. We only learn new things when we are able to admit that there are things we do not know and thinking we have it all figured out is the achilles heal of leadership and inspired learning.
Although these are five of my unique takeaways from my mindfulness practice, the benefits of starting a practice of your own today are many. Among them are decreased stress and anxiety, increased focus and attention, better communication and relationships, and increased follow through on your goals. Not to mention you will undoubtedly develop some of your own keen and original life principles for yourself as you sink deeper into a practice. If you are starting from scratch, start small…mindfulness is the opposite of pressure. Give yourself 2-3 minutes in the morning to sit and observe your thoughts without judgment or attaching to them. Work your way up to eight minutes, and then keep going from there. This distraction filled world is calling for your calm and quiet. Answer the call softly in the morning and watch as your days emerge with peaceful, sustainable, vitality and strength that will inspire others around you to ask where that deep calm is coming from.